Labour were too left-wing?

Yougov published some interesting polling results today which in a lot of ways seem contradictory. They asked people about Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party, and the direction Labour should take in the future. Here’s the results (click to enlarge):

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Around a third of respondents think that Labour under Ed Miliband was too left wing and 40% thought the new leader should move Labour more to the centre. This should be a surprising result, as Labour’s manifesto was not remotely left-wing, promising to continue austerity and talking tough on immigration and social security. To me though it shows the power of framing, and how media presentation can feed through to public perceptions. Constant reinforcement of ‘Red Ed’ and labelling certain policies as ‘communist’ seems to have done the trick.

If we contrast this with some other results from the same poll, the picture becomes a bit less clear as Yougov’s Peter Kellner explains in this blogpost. If you ask people where they sit on the political spectrum, the most popular answer seems to be ‘right in the middle’. You get a rather nice bell shaped curve like this:

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“The centre is where I am” seems to be the mantra. You hear politicians talk quite a lot about ‘reclaiming the centre ground’. For example the Lib Dem’s entire strategy seemed to be based around placing themselves slap bang in the middle between Labour and Conservative. They failed miserably of course, but not for that reason. Tony Blair was probably the master of claiming the centre ground, but the main point for politicians I guess is that to be successful you need to reframe the centre as “whatever platform we are running on”.

Words associated with left-wing and right-wing have a lot of negative baggage attached now so trying to attach a positive message to them is probably futile. They have kind of lost all meaning now. Everything to the left of whoever is in power is labelled as dangerous socialism, while the same is true to a lesser extent of the right wing.

So what does this mean for Labour? It seems clear that whoever wins the Labour leadership contest will want to present themselves as being in the centre. A moderate. A safe pair of hands. This is probably unavoidable, but being in the centre doesn’t mean your ideas need to bland and middle of the road. If you look at the public’s opinion on a range of issues, they are quite ‘leftish’ on a number of things (while still calling themselves centrist). Here is another finding from the Yougov poll linked to above:

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Previous polls have also shown strong public support for nationalisation of certain industries like the railways and utilities. Unfortunately (to me) though, the British people also seem quite preoccupied with making sure those unlucky enough to not have a job are not too comfortable:

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To me though, this presents an opportunity. If you can successfully frame yourself as being part of the centre, you can promote some quite radical policies while keeping a lot of voters on side. The public clearly want to see less people dependent on social security payments, so why not give them that by offering a guaranteed job to anyone willing and able to work?

It seems also that people can clearly see that capitalism is working incredibly well for those at the top, but less well for everyone else. There are some quite radical ideas that can tap into this while still being “pro-market”. I liked this recent comment from fellow blogger Neil Wilson:

It’s time to stop being ‘pro-business’ and start being ‘pro-market’.

– If you’re pro-market then you remove power and size differentials wherever they may be to ensure competition is allowed to work.

– If you’re pro-market then you ensure that everybody has an alternative job offer open to them via a Job Guarantee, ensuring there is always competition for labour resources.

– If you’re pro-market you address monopolies and rentier issues to ensure that resources are always fully utilised and available at the best prices.

‘pro-business’ people take the opposite view on these points.

Business needs to be treated as cattle not pets. They are looked after and farmed for what the output they provide, but if they stop doing that then they are culled to avoid wasting resources better used by others.

I think that’s dead right and is an attitude that should have support from across the political spectrum. The more interesting thinkers on the right like Douglas Carswell often talk of their disdain for ‘crony capitalism’, and would likely sign up to policies that were ‘pro-market’.

‘The radical centre’ is a phrase I’ve often heard (usually by people who are neither radical nor in the centre), but it does sort of capture an approach that could be successful. Convince voters you are in the centre and they’ll feel comfortable coming out to support you even if your policies offer a clear break with the status quo. It’s all about hitting the right notes by framing your ideas in the right way. It will be hard for any Labour leader to achieve this though, but hopefully one or more will at least try something new. The early signs are not great though.

How well do people understand the term ‘government deficit’?

Here’s an interesting poll finding from Yougov this week. They asked people the question “How well would you say you understand what people mean when they talk about the government’s deficit?” In answer, 69% said they had a very clear or fairly clear understanding. Not bad then. It’s talked about every day by politicians, so it’s good people understand what it means.

Not so fast though. Yougov followed up by asking “Which of the following do you think best describes the government’s deficit?” The majority (51%) thought “The total amount of money the government has borrowed” rather than the more correct description (“The amount of extra money that the government borrows each year”), which was only picked by 31%. 2% even answered “The total amount of money that everyone in the country has
collectively borrowed on overdrafts and credit cards.” Oh dear.

This is probably good news for the Tories. They can run around saying they have halved the deficit and most people will associated that with lower government debt (which people in turn tend to equate with their own household debt, where more=bad). It’s also bad news for people like me who want to try to explain to people that government deficits might not be an altogether bad thing, and that our government debt is not an issue that should supersede all others. It will also make me more skeptical about any future headlines generated from polling data!

You can find the full tables by clicking on the link above, but here are the headline figures. Interestingly, Labour voters were less likely to say they had a clear understanding of what a government deficit was, but they were no more likely to pick the wrong answer than supporters of other parties.

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UK public lurch to the left

Am back from a week’s holiday without internet access. Am usually online 24/7, so thought I might struggle, but it was actually quite refreshing. Didn’t take me long to slide back into old habits though, so here we are with another blogpost!

The title is slightly tongue-in-cheek, but relates to the results of a recent Yougov survey published here. The blog in which Yougov wrote up the survey results focused on the questions they asked about how left or right wing the public saw each of the main parties and their leaders, but Yougov also asked people how left or right wing they saw themselves.

When last asked this question in September 2013, 14% of people described themselves as either very or fairly left wing, while 12% described themselves as either very or fairly right wing. In last months poll, the figures came out as 15% very or fairly left wing and 11% as very or fairly right wing. So a surge to the left! Overall, 29% see themselves as left of centre, 20% as centre and 25% right of centre. 25% don’t know where they stand!

This is all relative of course because 30% saw Ed Miliband as being either very or fairly left wing (down from 36% last time), and I don’t think Miliband is left wing at all, so maybe the concept of left and right is not all that clear in people’s minds. I’ve blogged about this before, but if you want to find out where you are on the political spectrum, you can do the Political Compass test here. I posted my own result on my about page.